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Butterflies of the World

Butterflies of the World

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IT NEVER ceases to amaze me that something as beautiful as a butterfly was once a caterpillar. But if ever there was any doubt, Butterflies of the World would dispel any such notion forthwith.

With a text by ethologist, naturalist and author Myriam Baran and photographs from independent photographer Gilles Martin, this beautiful book chronicles the extraordinary lives of these unique creatures.

Nothing is overlooked, so what we have is a comprehensive study of a life form (a lepidoptera) from birth – in this instance, the laying of eggs – to death. In other words, a biology lesson of near epic proportions.

But it’s never boring. For example, the process of metamorphosis which is justifiably accorded a detailed explanation, simply and intriguingly unravels a mystery. Yet in so doing, reaffirms the miracle of life.

As for the images, they are nothing short of stunning and I can only begin to imagine what skill and patience went into obtaining them. But if, like me, caterpillars make your skin crawl, avoid pages 64 to 93 at all costs – page 93 especially. Suffice to say you could easily be forgiven for thinking that here is a creature straight out of a sci-fi horror movie!

Butterflies of the World also explores man’s relationship with these extraordinary creatures; creatures that according to Baran, are either ‘divine’ or ‘demonic’. And for divine, think silk; for demonic, caterpillar invasions.

Not surprisingly, everything taken into consideration, silk has a chapter all to itself. And it’s fascinating.

Did you know, for example, that in just 30 days the silkworm larva multiplies its weight 10,000 times? In human terms, that would mean a baby weighing six and a half pounds at birth would, when fully grown, hit the scales at a whopping 30 tons!

On a more serious note and as is so often the case these days, we are reminded that, despite their beauty, many species of butterfly and moth are endangered – either through loss of habitat or simply because they are considered agricultural pests and, as such, destroyed.

However, Butterflies of the World is, by any standards, a lovely book and will bring lasting pleasure to anyone with an eye for beauty. It may also make us think twice about the hairy little creature intent on demolishing the cabbage patch!